Supreme Court to Rule on Scope of Federal Powers in Voting Rights Act Case

By Richey, Warren | The Christian Science Monitor, November 9, 2012 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Supreme Court to Rule on Scope of Federal Powers in Voting Rights Act Case

Richey, Warren, The Christian Science Monitor

The US Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine whether Congress overstepped its authority in 2006 when it extended for 25 years a key portion of the Voting Rights Act.

In announcing that it would take up an appeal filed by Shelby County, Ala., the high court is significantly boosting the profile of its current term. The justices have already heard a potential landmark case concerning the constitutionality of race-based affirmative action programs at state universities.

Now the court appears prepared to decide another potential landmark case examining the federal-state balance of power, and whether Congress acted within its constitutional authority in reauthorizing the civil-rights-era law.

The action comes three days after President Obama, the first African-American president, won reelection. And it comes several months after Mr. Obamas Justice Department used Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to block newly enacted voter ID laws passed by Republican-controlled legislatures in Texas and South Carolina.

The laws had been patterned on a similar measure in Indiana that was upheld in 2008 by the US Supreme Court.

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is considered one of the governments most effective measures to promote and protect civil rights, and is sometimes called the crown jewel of the civil rights movement.

But some state and local governments say it imposes an unfair burden, forcing them to seek special approval from Washington under a regime that holds them accountable in 2012 for a history of discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s that they say has long since been remedied.

Supporters of the law counter that the United States has not yet solved the problem of racial discrimination in voting, and that the law is still needed to prevent backsliding.

The central argument against the law invokes federalism, the constitutionally mandated balance of power between the states and the national government. At issue is whether Sections 4 and 5 of the VRA are an improper intrusion by the federal government into the sovereign power of state and local governments.

Those two sections of the Voting Rights Act rely on Congresss authority to enforce constitutional protections against racial discrimination in voting and elections. The high court has said such federal enforcement efforts must be "congruent and proportional" to the targeted problem.

Faced with persistent efforts by some jurisdictions in the 1950s and 1960s to systematically deny full voting rights to minorities, lawmakers in Washington decided to take extraordinary action.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 created a list of state and local governments with particularly egregious records of fostering discrimination in voting. The new law required those on the list to obtain permission from Washington before they could implement any new voting procedures.

Discriminatory procedures were disallowed. Thus, state and local governments that in the past had tried to bypass the Voting Rights Acts requirement of equal treatment were forced to adopt fair voting procedures.

Much has changed in the US since the 1950s and 1960s, both socially and demographically. The question now is whether those same powerful federal controls deemed necessary to end blatant Jim Crow- era discrimination remain an appropriate use of federal power 40 to 50 years later.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Supreme Court to Rule on Scope of Federal Powers in Voting Rights Act Case


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?